What is Herbal Medicine?

Greetings Boilers,

As National Gardening Month comes to a close, perhaps you have taken some time to stop and smell the flowers this month.  Maybe you have even considered planting in your own backyard! The Purdue Master Gardener Program is offering a free Gardening for Royalty: Native Plants for the Monarchs and Queens April 18, 2019 @ 12 Noon EST (Register Here) as well as How to Make an Under the Sink Compost Bin Using Red Worms, May 23, 2019 @ 12 Noon EST (Register Here).

 If you can’t participate on April 18 or May 23, but are still interested in this topic, go ahead and register. A recorded presentation will be sent to all registered participants following the webinar.  Additionally, Purdue Agriculture shares a Creating Herb Gardens – Inspiring Aromatic Adventures document you might want to check out. While the information is designed for classroom projects for children, the information still applies, and you can easily turn your home into the classroom – for yourself and family members.

If you are still exploring how you can dig in, I would encourage you to start small and bring home a plant that is both useful and easy to maintain. Something like an aloe vera plant can stay in your home all year long and be used this summer for some sunburn relief if needed. The use of aloe vera on the skin would be an example of herbal medicine. “What is herbal medicine?” — you may ask. Herbal medicine is the use of crude plant materials such as leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, stems, wood, bark, roots, rhizomes or other plant parts for medical purposes.

Herbal medicine has a long historical use and is widely acknowledged to be safe and effective. Seventy four percent of herbs used today have been used in the same manner for centuries. You are probably already familiar with common herbs that support healing functions of the body. Some common herbs and their uses include:

  • Lavender and lemon balm – stress reliever
  • Aloe vera and comfrey – wound healing
  • Mint and basil – digestion
  • Elderberry and sage – respiratory support
  • Rosemary and peppermint – cognitive function

Most herbs, taken in their “whole” state, can be used safely and freely as part of one’s healthy lifestyle program. If you are taking prescription drugs or are pregnant/breast feeding, consult your physician or pharmacist for possible interactions. You can schedule an appointment with one of our pharmacists (Chelsea Anderson or Jamie Woodyard) at the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus for medication therapy management (MTM) assistance. Appointments with the CHL pharmacists can be done in person or via telephone, making it easy and convenient for any benefits-eligible Purdue employee – regardless of campus location – to take advantage of the MTM options. To schedule an appointment, call the center at 765-494-0111 or schedule via the patient portal.

Scientific research continues to validate the use of herbs for medicinal purposes as we learn how and why various constituents in a plant work in the body. Some reliable sources for information on herbal medicine include the German Commission E and the American Botanical Council (ABC). The ABC has a wealth of information on their website including uses, dosing, side effects and warnings for thousands of herbs. I highly recommend visiting the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas, if you are in the area and take some time walking through their herb garden, which is planted by body systems.

When using herbs at home, you should note the various ways to utilize them – also known as “delivery methods.” The nutritive properties of herbs can be delivered in a concentrated form orally (through tisanes and tinctures) or topically (through salves and oils). See further explanations below:

  • Tisanes (infusion and decoction) – Tea made by treating fresh or dehydrated herbs with water or another liquid to extract the medicinal and nutritive principles.
  • Tinctures – A highly concentrated herbal extract created by steeping herbal material in a liquid solvent.
  • Salves – A semi-solid fatty herbal mixture for external use.
  • Oils – A liquid fatty herbal mixture for external use.

Cooking with dried or fresh herbs can also enhance the flavor of healthy foods without adding fat, salt, sugar or calories. Using herbs in the kitchen allows any medicinal properties provided by the herbs to be ‘icing on the cake.’ Try growing some mint and adding it to your water, tea or lemonade this summer.  Thyme, rosemary or sage can be added to chicken, roasted vegetables, quinoa bowls and more. Be creative and experiment with the different flavors and properties of herbs. You might just find an inner herbalist you didn’t know existed! For additional help using herbs to cook with, schedule an appointment Megan Shidler, registered dietitian at the CHL.

Be Well. Be Kind. Boiler Up!

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Creating Herb gardens https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/nature/Documents/TNT%20HW%20School%20Gardens%20Lesson%20Plans/Creating%20Herb%20Gardens.pdf   Purdue Ag

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